I just finished a book that our secretary, Jinyoung, gave me for Christmas – The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson. He was about seventy years old when he wrote it, and I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a guy who has learned how to spin straw into gold. He excels at that gift possessed by all great writers; he’s able to take those things that the rest of us think and feel, and put them into words.
It was what he said about “one sermon” pastors that really got my attention. I’ve heard a few “one sermon” pastors in my day. The north Georgia mountains, where I spent several years of my ministry, has a lot of them. They tend to be suspect of cemetery trained pastors (that’s seminary trained for those who don’t know the dialect of the Blue Ridge mountains), and they believe that studying before preaching is tantamount to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. They step into their pulpits on Sunday scarcely knowing what they are going to say. The result is they pretty much say the same thing every week.
But that’s not what Eugene Peterson meant when he described “one sermon” pastors.
What Peterson meant was that after years of teaching and leading God’s people there tends to develop in most pastors an overarching theme or philosophy that undergirds, and is woven into everything they say and do. I’ve noticed this.
For some, it’s all about orthodoxy. Getting it right. For others it’s about missions and ministry. Going and doing. Other “one sermon” emphases include evangelism; winning souls for the kingdom, the Holy Spirit; living an obedient, holy life, the Blessed Life; receiving all God has for us. The list goes on. All of these are good things, and I’ve given time to each of them over the years.
But then I started asking myself, “What is my one sermon?” What is the one thing that I keep coming back to over and over again?
I thought about how often I quote the words of Jesus when he says that all the Law and Prophets (that is the whole Bible) can be summed up in the words of Moses, love God with all your heart, and love others as yourself. Or when Christ says Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. I’ve shared the sobering truth that right doctrine does not necessarily lead to right living; not if we don’t realize that doctrine is not the end, but rather the means to the end.
So, what is my one sermon? What is it that permeates everything else I say? I think that maybe the phrase, reformation of the heart describes it best, because by revealing His heart to us God makes possible the reformation of our own hearts.
What is the Bible if not the revelation of God’s heart? The opening pages of Genesis reveal that heart in the act of creation – and it was good, and it was good, and it was good. We see God’s heart when He cries out to naked, hidden Adam, Where are you? Most clearly, we see the heart of God in Jesus who came to seek and to save prodigal children like you and me.
The Apostle John says; we love him because he first loved us. God’s love is the eternal flame that ignites our own hearts. The closer we draw to that flame, the more our own cold hearts are warmed, reformed, and transformed so that God’s love is experienced by those around us. And that divine love is the irresistible force that draws people to Christ.
That’s my one sermon. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m better at preaching it than living it. But I’m trying. I see others trying too. In fact, from my perspective more and more pastors seem to be preaching about the transforming power of God’s love. More and more communities of believers are being transformed by what Jesus referred to as the two greatest commandments – Love God with all your heart. Love others as yourself.
I’ll have a lot more to say about this in future blogs. For now, I’m reading, watching, and praying for what I believe may very well be the newest reformation of the church. I like to call it, The Reformation of the Heart. Stay tuned.